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Does time affect the validity of patient's consent?

3I am often concerned when requests for reports are accompanied by patient consent forms dated some time before the letter.

I have just received a letter, for example, from a firm of solicitors requesting all the medical records in connection with an

accident at work. The patient consent for disclosure is dated three months ago. Do consent forms 'time expire' or do we just have to make a sensible judgment about their validity?

If the validity of consent is in doubt you must always check with the patient to ensure it is legally valid before disclosing any data to a third party. To be legally valid it must be given willingly, by a competent patient, on the basis of full information. The patient must understand what is required, by whom and why.

In general, therefore, the consent cannot predate the data that is requested, as by definition that could not possibly be based upon a full knowledge of what is required and why.

In the event of a request being made some time after the consent was granted for data that was recorded before the date of consent, the patient is perfectly entitled to change his or her mind about the matter of consent in the intervening period. You should therefore check they are still happy to give legally valid consent.

If in doubt about the validity of the

consent it is preferable to provide a copy of the data to the patient under the Data Protection Act.

It is then the patient's own decision as to whether they wish to provide that data to the third party.

In the event that an insurance company is investigating a suspected fraudulent claim, it would be entitled to obtain a court order requiring release of the data.

In this case patient consent is not required. Similarly, there are very rare circumstances in

which consent may not

be required where it is overwhelmingly in the public interest or necessary to prevent serious harm to the patient or to another person.

Disclosing data to a third party without adequate consent is legally and professionally unacceptable. If that disclosure had disadvantageous legal or financial consequences for the patient it would be more likely to lead to litigation.

Dr Christine Dewbury, Wessex LMCs

Neither Pulse nor Wessex LMCs can accept any legal liability in respect of the answers given. Readers should seek independent advice before acting on the information concerned.

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